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8-Misc: New York State Honey Producers Association critical on GE crops

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  AFB - GM crop connection possible
SOURCE: by Joe Rowland, Commercial Beekeeper, Secretary/Treasurer of the
        Empire State (New York) Honey Producers Association
DATE:   October 2000

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AFB - GM crop connection possible
"Letter to the editors of bee journals"

Dear Editor,

The New York State Legislature has been considering enactment of a 
moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, and/or 
requiring labeling of products containing GM ingredients. State legislative 
committees held public hearings on this subject during October 2000. I was 
invited to testify at these hearings. Although I am no authority on the 
topic, I decided to review publicly available information pertaining to the 
possible impact of GM crops on honeybees, and present this material at the 
hearing. I identified three main areas of concern.

1. There is an alarming lack of publicly available information evaluating 
the effects of GM crops on bees. Biotechnology corporations fund research 
on GM crops in their efforts to gain regulatory approval for the marketing 
of GM varieties of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, and other crops. This 
research supposedly proves beyond a reasonable doubt that these novel 
genetic combinations are safe to introduce into the environment. Canadian 
researcher, Mark Winston, recently attempted to gain access to the results 
of research that assessed the effects of GM crops on honeybees. Canadian 
government authorities acknowledged that such research had been conducted, 
but refused to provide any details. Their refusal was attributed to the 
fact that such research is confidential and owned by the undisclosed 
biotechnology corporations who funded the studies in question. I believe 
FDA/EPA policy is similar in this regard. This lack of openness raises 
serious credibility issues regarding corporate claims about the safety of 
GM crops. If their research is solid, then why is it kept secret?

2. Laboratory studies carried out by the French government research 
institute INRA indicate that pollen from some GM crops shortens the 
lifespan of adult bees. Also, it seems to cause some learning dysfunctions 
that could result in the disorientation of foraging bees. Disoriented bees 
may become lost or unable to locate nectar sources.

3. Possibly the most important public disclosure came out in June, 2000, 
when German researchers at Jena University showed that genetic material 
from GM canola crossed the species barrier, and was positively identified 
in bacteria that reside in the guts of honeybees. I believe this is the 
first publicly documented case of horizontal gene transfer from GM crops to 
bacteria. This discovery may have major implications for the future of GM 
crops. One main objection to GM crops has focused on the fact that during 
genetic manipulations required to create GMOs, antibiotic-resistant 
"marker" genes are combined with the so-called genes of interest. These 
combined genes are inserted into the target plant. Within the plant, the 
antibiotic resistant gene has no expression and is harmless. However, if 
this gene were able to transfer from the GM plant and enter another 
bacterium, that bacterium would become antibiotic-resistant. This might 
render commonly used antibiotics useless against diseases attacking humans 
and livestock, including honeybees.

Bees in the US are increasingly afflicted with a strain of antibiotic 
resistant American foulbrood (AFB). Before the advent of antibiotics, this 
bacterial infection was the most serious bee disease in the world. 
Tetracycline had been used effectively against AFB for 40 years until 1996. 
In that year, tetracycline resistance was confirmed in both Argentina and 
the upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Since then, it has 
spread to at least 17 states in the US, including New York, and to parts of 
Canada. During the 1990s, millions of acres of Round-up Ready crops were 
planted in the US, Canada, and Argentina. According to my information, the 
antibiotic resistant gene used in the creation of Round-up Ready crops was 
resistant to tetracycline. After 40 years of effective usage against an 
infective bacterium found in the guts of honeybees, suddenly two 
geographically isolated countries develop tetracycline resistance 
simultaneously. A common thread between the US, Canada and Argentina is the 
widespread and recent cultivation of GM crops containing tetracycline 
resistant genes.

I spoke about this with Dr. Hachiro Shimanuki, who until recently was the 
research leader of the USDA/ARS bee research lab in Beltsville, MD. He is 
not aware of any attempt to analyze the resistant foulbrood for genetic 
pollution from GM crops. I think that the technology exists to be able to 
determine whether these AFB bacteria have the Round-up Ready gene. That 
gene should have tagged along with the tetracycline resistant gene if in 
fact this antibiotic resistant AFB was due to horizontal gene transfer 
between GM crops and foulbrood bacteria.

I want to stress the speculative nature of this possible GMO/antibiotic 
resistant AFB connection. However, if it is true, the public health 
implications are enormous. A documented antibiotic resistant gene transfer 
into a disease organism would strongly indicate that the FDA should re-
assess the potential human risks associated with GM crops, and possibly 
revoke federal approval for the sale and consumption of some of these 
modified plants.

As an industry, I think we should immediately request, through our local, 
state, and national associations, that the FDA analyze samples of 
antibiotic resistant AFB in order to determine whether or not a genetic 
transfer has occurred from GM crops.

If we act together, the FDA will find our combined resolutions to be a 
powerful stimulus to investigate this matter in a timely fashion.

Biotech corporations have maintained that we should trust their research 
findings that secretly prove to Federal regulators that GM crops are safe. 
I would suggest that it would be wise to maintain a healthy skepticism on 
this matter. Often there is a fundamental conflict between the corporate 
interest in short-term profit, and the public interest in the health and 
safety of the people. In fact, we have recently seen examples of this 
conflict exposed in the courts concerning other corporations.

I believe that we all are now participating in a vast GMO experiment 
without our informed consent. Many European beekeepers are fiercely opposed 
to the cultivation of GM crops in the vicinity of their apiaries. It is 
well within the realm of possibility that we should be too.


Joe Rowland
2495, Montrose Turnpike
Owego, NY 13827

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